Gil Scott-Heron, one of the most influential artists of his generation, whose mesmerizing spoken word, often politically-charged music such as the seminal "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," would set the stage for new levels of artistic expression in popular music, has died in New York at age 62. Scott-Heron had reportedly become ill upon his return from a trip to Europe.
The Chicago-born Scott-Heron began his recording career in 1970 with the LP Small Talk at 125th and Lenox. The album's 15 tracks dealt with themes such as the superficiality of television and mass consumerism, the hypocrisy of some would-be Black revolutionaries, white middle-class ignorance of the difficulties faced by inner-city residents, and homophobia. In the liner notes, Scott-Heron acknowledged as influences Richie Havens, John Coltrane, Otis Redding, Jose Feliciano, Billie Holiday, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Nina Simone, and the pianist who would become his long-time collaborator, Brian Jackson.
Scott-Heron's 1971 album Pieces of a Man used more conventional song structures than the loose, spoken-word feel of Small Talk. He was joined by Johnny Pate (conductor), Brian Jackson on keyboards, piano, Ron Carter on bass and bass guitar, drummer Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, Burt Jones playing electric guitar, and Hubert Laws on flute and saxophone, with Thiele producing again. Scott-Heron's third album, Free Will, was released in 1972. Jackson, Purdie, Laws, Knowles, and Saunders all returned to play on Free Will and were joined by Jerry Jemmott playing bass, David Spinozza on guitar, and Horace Ott (arranger and conductor).
1974 saw the critically acclaimed opus Winter in America, arguably Scott-Heron's most cohesive album to date. It set the stage for a string of albums, made almost annually for the rest of the decade and into the early 80s.
As the 90s came about, Scott-Heron's legacy continued to grow. Given the political consciousness that lies at the foundation of his work, he can also be called a founder of political rap. His early 90s song "Message to the Messengers" was a plea for the new generation of rappers to speak for change rather than perpetuate the current social situation, and to be more articulate and artistic.
In 2001, Gil Scott-Heron was sentenced to one to three years' imprisonment in New York State for possession of cocaine. He was jailed again in 2006. After his release in 2007, Scott-Heron began performing live again, and continued to make live appearances until the time of his death.
Gil Scott-Heron released his new album I'm New Here on independent label XL Recordings on February 9, 2010. The album attracted substantial critical acclaim with The Guardian newspaper's Jude Rogers declaring it one of the next decade's best records.